x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Five-star fiasco in Fujairah on our weekend getaway

Hotel upgrades and freebies cannot make up for terrible customer service, writes Alice Haine.

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National

"Would you like a chocolate mouse, madam?" the waiter asked, grinning at me like his life depended on it.

"Yes, I would love a chocolate mouse," I replied.

"I'd also like a chocolate mouse," a couple of others seated round the table piped up, their shoulders shaking at they struggled to contain their amusement.

It may seem unfair to laugh at a waiter unable to pronounce the word "mousse", but in our defence we weren't laughing at him.

We were laughing at the appalling - if not comical - level of customer service we had experienced at the supposed five-star hotel we had checked into that afternoon.

The "mouse" moment - which for those familiar with British comedy was akin to an episode of 'Allo 'Allo or even Fawlty Towers - had tipped some of us over the edge.

And if you'd listened to our giggles, they were closer to hysteria than amusement.

To put you in the picture we were a group of 14 adults and 12 children, who had gathered together for a night's stay at our favourite Fujairah bolthole.

We wanted eight ground-floor rooms together, so that while the children slept the adults could sit outside their rooms and have dinner together.

It wasn't a ridiculous request, particularly as we had asked six weeks in advance and followed up with five phone calls to ensure our reservation requirements were met.

Sadly, our forward planning was to no avail. At check-in, we discovered only two of the eight rooms were positioned together, with the other six spread across the site.

"We've upgraded one of the rooms to a suite," the receptionist purred as their first token of apology.

We accepted, on the reassurance that the other seven would be grouped together in blocks of three and four.

However, when two families hadn't been able to enter their rooms by 5pm - three hours after check-in - we complained and the families were offered a drink at the cafe in the lobby.

Later, when we realised the earlier promise to group us into two blocks had also been broken, scuppering our plans for the evening ahead, we complained once more.

We were offered free meals for the children and drinks and canapés for the adults.

But the problems persisted and with each mistake, another freebie was hurled at us as compensation.

There were free babysitters so that we could all eat together, drinks for those whose room service meals came incomplete and without any cutlery and then the complimentary offer of the hysteria-inducing "chocolate mouse".

"How do they make any money?" one of our party asked as another tray of goodies was ushered our way.

What the hotel didn't realise was that while no one is averse to receiving something for nothing, what we really prefer is to pay good money for good quality service.

Nobody wants to spend a night away with a group of friends ranting and raving at the reception desk. They want to sip on a fruity drink as they lie on a sun lounger on the beach or splash around in the pool with their children, followed by a leisurely dinner.

Instead of which, one group member was so disgruntled by the debacle, he turned the "free" babysitter away and went to bed early.

In his eyes, the weekend he had envisaged had been ruined and he would rather sleep through the remainder of it.

What mystified all of us was how a hotel that had been a favourite weekend destination for so long could have headed into the doldrums so easily. Systems were failing across the site and the staff were plastering over the cracks with coffees, snacks and room upgrades.

If a company delivers smooth service, guests will come back again and again. But each time they return, they expect the same level of customer service to be in place.

For us to be met by such poor customer care was a huge disappointment.

As I headed off the next day, two families squashed into one 4x4, there was a call from the hotel. They wanted to check whether one of our group had forgotten to check out. He hadn't forgotten, rolling his eyes as he explained to the receptionist that he had indeed paid his bill.

"Chocolate mouse?" I offered.